Editor’s note: China Partnership is devoting this year to praying through the Lord’s Prayer for the church in China. Each month we present the reflections of different Chinese house church leaders on one theme of the Lord’s Prayer and focus our prayers on that specific theme.
Our project begins with “our Father in heaven.” In a recent interview, a Chinese pastor considered the corporate nature of the Lord’s Prayer and shared his thoughts on the unity of the church.
CP: When we pray “our Father in heaven,” we acknowledge that we belong in the corporate body of Christ with all of God’s children. Our prayer unites us with the saints of all ages. Can you speak about the Chinese church and unity? How can we pray for the church in China in this regard?
Pastor: When talking about unity, we must first understand what unity is. Unity refers to the unity of the church, which is actually the unity of our lives. As stated in the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe in the communion of the saints.” It is not a unity of theology, nor a unity of system, and definitely not a unity of being good-tempered. When we are truly one with Christ in Christ, we are naturally one with one another. This is “the communion of the saints” in the Apostles’ Creed that I trust. Therefore, as a pastor of a Reformed Presbyterian church in China, I adhere to my principles and positions. But at the same time, I accept all denominations in Christ. They are my dear brothers and sisters and comrades fighting in the same trench for Christ. So unity is the unity of truth and of life.
In addition, when I exegete “our Father in heaven,” my interpretation may be even broader. “Our Father in heaven” shows that the Creator God, the Redeemer God, the Merciful God, and the Finisher God is the heavenly Father of all creatures.
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When I interpret this verse, I also help brothers and sisters to look at “our Father in heaven” from the aspect of creation. This is to say that, in creational terms, God is the father of all of mankind; not only is he the father of Christians, but he is also the God of any person. On the basis of this, I teach brothers and sisters that whatever times we live in, and in this situation under the evil circumstances of the Communist Party’s rule today, we can still applaud whatever good – even if little – [the government] does that benefits society and people under the grace of their Father, the Creator God. This is where culture crosses paths with the gospel. So, when we talk about unity, we are referring to oneness under one God, one Bible, one Holy Spirit, and one Mediator.
A hindrance to unity is human sinfulness. Our sin is the single greatest obstacle to unity in Christ. Sin is self-centeredness. For example, each of our denominations has our own theological framework, our own doctrines, and our own way of governance. But when one denomination is proud to the point where we narrow-mindedly judge other denominations simply by what little understanding we possess in our own perspective, we are in trouble and division might happen. This was also our experience, and we have repented. We used to believe that our denomination and our theology is [the only way], that it is Reformed theology alone, or the Reformed tradition alone. But we have tasted the bitterness of our mistake in our interactions with others in this big family of Christ. The Holy Spirit also illuminated us, showing us that those who receive grace first should be all the more humble and loving toward others.
Therefore, the greatest obstacle to unity is our sin. This teaches and urges all of us in different denominations to continually repent and return to the Bible while laboring in our own different ministries. We need to stay close to God’s covenant and law in our everyday living, love God, love people, honor God and do good, fighting that good fight for Christ, running the race, and holding on to God’s truth. Otherwise, when something goes wrong in our denomination, others will see it not as a problem of one denomination or one church member, but of Christ’s church as a whole. Therefore, for the sake of God’s glory and Christ’s good name, I urge brothers and sisters of all denominations to truly stand firm on such a foundation in Christ; in that way our lives will be united.
CP: Thank you for your sharing. Can I ask you to pray now for the Chinese church and nation?
Pastor: Our Father in heaven, I call out to you with all your children, as ones redeemed and saved by you, and pray that your Spirit will use your holy servants to shepherd your saints through your eternal Word and through your Church. Let us truly know that we are one in Jesus Christ, and that the Holy Spirit has given the promise of oneness in the Bible, that we might be kept united by the grace of the Holy Spirit and by being rooted in the Word.
I pray that our heavenly Father would help the various denominations of our house churches in China as well as the various denominations of churches around the world to remain one in the Spirit, guarding us from our sin, keeping us from any willful or hidden sins, helping us truly and humbly submit to the sovereignty of Christ, so that we might be united in the Spirit.
I also pray for our society in China. When we say “our Father in heaven,” we know that you are the Creator. All were created by you, and anyone can call you Father as part of your creation. But because mankind has fallen into sin, they do not recognize you or give thanks to you. They resist you and your truth, and they act as your enemies and are hostile to your truth. Lord, I pray that you will use your church mightily in this age. May your children be living testimonies of love and truth in Christ, so that people of this nation will be led to call upon their heavenly Father through Jesus Christ, and by trusting Jesus, become the sons and daughters of God.
Even if they will not receive the gospel, we pray that as your church and your beloved, we will still wish upon our nation the benefits of the gospel, so that before the final judgment comes, while people still live, they may taste the grace and goodness the gospel brings. Lord, have mercy on us. Cause people to think about the source of this goodness when they have experienced it and consider life’s end. May they put their trust in our Lord Jesus Christ so that their souls may be saved and they may have life over death, receiving the hope of eternal life.
We praise you Lord, Father in heaven. Together we cry out to you, and you will hear our prayers. We pray all this in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.